I love a good groove. I mean really love a good groove. For all of my idiosyncrasies and love of music in general, sometimes I can't get enough of a solid jam band that's found "the zone" and is really hitting its stride. Jam bands are a dime a dozen, however, and not all of them are good. Actually, let's face it, most of them aren't.
A couple of weekends ago, I wandered into The Colony on a Saturday for a little nightcap--a final drink and a few tunes to end an otherwise wonderful evening.
When the guy at the door informed me there was a $3 cover, all I asked was "So, who's playing tonight?" The response: Ego Culture. It was cold and drizzling, I could hear some sweet tones from the door, and I know you can rarely go wrong at The Colony. Without hesitation, I gave up $6 (for myself and a friend), made a quick stop at the bar for my last round and found a seat to settle into.
And what did I find that night? The groove. I hesitate to call Ego Culture a jam band; although, there are elements of that. The band prefers to not claim a category and rightly so.
Funk, rock, jazz, and blues -- the group follows the groove where it leads and does so in righteous fashion. The band took me to one of those places where time stands still without growing monotonous.
That is the key to knowing and existing in the groove -- not growing monotonous. Too many times, even jam-monsters like Phish or The Dead have found the groove but locked into the same riff or progression for too long. That's when it grows boring. Finding the sensibility to stay on track, yet keep things moving is a gift that many don't have.
On Saturday night, however, Ego Culture was in tune with the cosmos and all was right -- the mood was relaxed, the groove was there, and the band never sat still for too long, yet didn't make the room or music seem rushed or push it in the wrong direction.
Looking up, I saw a couple faces I already knew and a couple that were vaguely familiar, yet names that didn't readily come to mind.
Guitarist Lance Reynolds and bassist Eric Hartley are probably best known right now for driving the grooves in Sam & the Stylees, so you know they're solid. Although a touch of reggae can slip in if the mood so strikes and that's where the groove flows, but that's not where Ego Culture exists.
On keys, Chris Kyle (of Pilgrim) sat back and filled the pocket -- a tasty lick here or there, occasionally steering the hook, but mostly fleshing out the music.
And behind the drums, the face and name I didn't know personally, Thomas "Doc" Glendening (currently of The Rebellion) was the man steering the ship with a tasteful flow and idyllic sense of timing.
Believe it or not, Ego Culture is fully improvisational: No rehearsals and no previously planned progressions, just four guys who know each other well enough that they can show and go.
Ideally, Ego culture is a funk band at heart; although, that's not solely where it exists. Born out of Reynolds and Kyle's other side project, J.I.R.R.H.A.F.F., which is currently on hiatus, Reynolds said, "I always had that funk idea with J.I.R.R.H.A.F.F., but it went more to trance when playing live."
At one point, Kyle said he had an interest in playing more with Reynolds, but with Reynolds on guitar instead of drums, which is the role he fills in J.I.R.R.H.A.F.F., the remaining question then was who would play drums?
A call to an old friend (and original Stylees drummer) Glendening found Doc settling into the seat and Hartley fit right in to fill out the rhythm section.
Ego Culture made its debut in November and has since truly found its groove. Playing almost exclusively at The Colony, which the band considers home, the guys come together and coalesce in a blanket of funk, rock and liquid groove two to three times a month but are careful to not overdo it.
As for now, the timing seems to be just about perfect. Not only for a classy new band to help raise the bar on improvisational music (which is growing on the local scene, if you haven't noticed yet), but also for the frequency to be out playing. It also keeps things fresh as the group hasn't fallen into the trap of settling back into an old riff or progression when things start to stall.
In turn, it's just enough to keep you coming back for more because you know each performance will be different from the last and it never gets boring.
"The real reason for doing his is because it's so freeing," he said. "We don't have to explain anything and there's no band drama. At least, not yet."
He said that the band does play off of the audience and vibe of the room as much as each other, but the group's focus on keeping things upbeat also helps set the room's tone. One glance and you'll notice that there are always at least a few people up and dancing, while others lay back and soak it in. That movement and interaction keeps the band on track and generally keeps the vibe positive and joyous.
Reynolds' true love is admittedly funk, and though he doesn't force it, that's the underlying vibe here. That's perfect in this situation because the flow keeps things moving and the energy positive.
Mostly, the focus in Ego Culture is on keeping things tight, even within the improvisational structure. Yes, back to the key -- knowing when and how to move on and not grow monotonous.
So far, Ego Culture has tapped into something special and perhaps hasn't even found its stride yet. Look them up now and become part of the Culture, then sit back and see how this group progresses. I predict the band will be one of our heavy hitters before the year is up. You can catch them at The Colony this month, exploring the groove on March 3, 19 and 24. It's worth stopping in and entering "the Zone."
Looking and Playing Sharp
If you're picking up Urban Tulsa early and haven't clued in yet, moe. is set to stop in at Cain's Ballroom on Wednesday, March 3. If you haven't seen them before, or even recently, now's the time.
The group just wrapped up work on its first compilation album and is on tour celebrating its 20th anniversary.
"I hesitate to call it a greatest hits," guitarist Al Schneir said, "but it's certainly our heavy hitters. People always ask 'If I only buy one moe. album, what should it be?' There's never been a good answer for that until now."
Instead of just rolling up a pack of old recordings, however, the band that keeps evolving decided to keep things fresh and went into the studio to create all new studio versions of all the songs that have proven to be the best and fan favorites throughout the past 20 years. Meant to be a career-spanning overview, it will be a single disc release, planned for late spring, and is merely volume one of what should continue to build for a band that's spent two decades together.
As for what you can expect at the Ballroom, Schneir said, "We're constantly evolving, so we're on a different path musically than we may have been on last year."
So what has changed? Schneir laughingly called this a leaner, meaner moe. than we've seen in the past. "There's just this approach that we're taking," he said, "where we've gotten very serious -- everything seems more focused and a lot more streamlined."
As part of that focus, he said that he's shed much of the extra instrumentation of the past few tours and albums and is focusing more on his guitar playing, which has given him more room to play the music and explore improvisationally, instead of getting preoccupied with additional instruments.
Schneir also said that fans will also notice a new look to the band. "After 20 years of taking a casual approach, we decided to take our jobs a bit more seriously and went out and bought suits," he said with a chuckle.
After years of talking about it, usually inspired after watching movies like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs and thinking it would be cool, the band finally took the plunge after touring with Del McCoury last year. A few conversations with McCoury inspired the band to take the plunge.
According to Schneir, McCoury takes it all very seriously and shared his view that he was playing to lift people up and to show up without a suit on is to do less than his audience deserved.
While moe. doesn't take itself too seriously, Schneir said the addition of the suits wasn't really a joke but was a little tongue in cheek, knowing that the group isn't a big band or have a huge attitude.
Even so, it's become fun and added to the band's vibe. After 20 years, you might as well look good doing it, right? Tickets for tonight's show at Cain's Ballroom are $26 at the door or $32 for a two-night ticket to include admission to the Boombox show on Thursday, March 4.
Even though we've just come off a week that included a visit from the highly revered guitar legend Eric Clapton, that doesn't mean everything else is downhill from here. If anything, spring is drawing near and the concert season is just starting to awaken, as are our local bands.
Thursday nights are almost always good for live music in T-Town. This week, if you're not into an old standby like Higher Education at Eclipse or Cairde na Gael at Arnie's on March 4, you can check out Boombox with DJ Heady P at Cain's Ballroom or let your blues out with Joe Mack at The Colony.
Friday evening's biggest show is easily Norah Jones' North American Tour kickoff at Brady Theater. This one's been buzzing since the initial announcement and the show sold out immediately, but if you're slick you still might be able to find tickets. Sarah Jaffe opens the show at 8pm. See page 43 for a preview and more details.
If you're not already locked into Jones on March 5, you've still got plenty of options. STS9 returns to Cain's for an evening of electro-inspired jam rock and Big Gigantic opens the show. Elsewhere, Wink Burcham plays Arnie's, Dirtfoot returns to Mercury Lounge and Jesse Aycock rules over The Colony.
Saturday, March 6, marks the Bob Wills Birthday Bash at Cain's Ballroom with The Texas Playboys, Roundup Boys and Oklahoma Stomp. If you're looking for a modern take on Tulsa instead of the classic, however, check out Steve Pryor at The Colony, Brandon Clark at Hunt Club, Dustin Pittsley at Eclipse, or The Fiddlebacks at Mercury Lounge.
Sunday, March 7, is highlighted by the Jagermeister Country tour headlined by Eric Church with Josh Thompson. If you're not feeling that, however, you can chill out with Pilgrim at The Colony or Eric Himan playing an acoustic set at Hunt Club.
Finally, the week wraps up with Texas native and Tulsa adopted Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights. This kid has soul and can do no wrong. He's at Bob's again on March 10, sharing the love with Tulsa staple Pilgrim, so you know it will be a good night.
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